AUSTIN (KXAN) — A month after it went on the market, a doctor said Texans are among those purchasing the wearable COVID-19 vaccine card he created.
Dr. Tashof Bernton, an internal medicine doctor in Colorado, started selling a blue silicone bracelet called the ImmunaBand, which has a metal tag with a QR code on it. He said scanning that code, similar to what restaurants are using now for contactless menus, will open to show someone’s vaccination status.
“You upload your card, and it takes you directly to your vaccine card,” Dr. Bernton explained. “You can either get the ImmunaBand with just the QR code, or you can have the QR code and your name and the type of vaccine.”
He said in his view the band does two things for people: provides visible proof of vaccination for them and those around them and allows them to carry documentation of it.
“That’s the important thing — it’s a voluntary choice. People can choose to have it or not,” Dr. Bernton said, “but you’re not going to lose your vaccine card. It’s not going to get spindled or mutilated, and it’s there.”
The ImmunaBand sells for $19.99. Once someone purchases it, Dr. Bernton explains how the process will then work.
“You go ahead and purchase the bracelet, and we send you an email,” he said. “You upload your card. Once the card information is uploaded and you select whether you want your name on the bracelet or whether you just want the QR code, then we ship the bracelet.”
“We do inspect each [card]. We look at it, and we make sure sure it has all of the appropriate information on it,” he added.
When asked about people securely sharing medical information, he said the information is protected by a pin code. He also said people’s data is encrypted on a HIPAA-compliant server as further protection.
“When you pull up the QR code, it doesn’t go directly to your vaccination card. It goes to a screen that allows you to enter a pin code, which you choose and can change,” Dr. Bernton said. “After you enter the pin code, it shows the vaccination and the date, and it shows the vaccination card itself.”
He said these safeguards should address any concerns if someone’s band is stolen or lost.
“They can steal the bracelet, but unless you’ve given them the pin code, they can’t access the information, which is obviously different than the card,” Dr. Bernton said. “You lose the card, [and] they’ve gotten all of it.”
Dr. Bernton shared photos of someone recently using the ImmunaBand to gain access to Madison Square Garden in New York City, which now requires guests to provide proof of vaccination as one of the ways they can get into the facility to attend events there. He also said a taxi company and restaurants may partner with ImmunaBand to recognize it as proof of vaccination, though he said no businesses or venues in Texas are currently working with him to do the same. However, the bracelet only came out a month ago.
“A lot of it is just people who want to be able to signal both their support for the vaccination, and, as a physician, I strongly support the vaccination program,” Dr. Bernton said. “I think that the value in being able to signal to, for example, the public from a business that your employees are vaccinated, that they’re safe, is very important and helpful.”
The emergence of the ImmunaBand comes at a time when safety conversations are happening about people possibly providing proof of vaccination to access certain facilities, activities or events during the ongoing pandemic.
In April Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning so-called “vaccine passports” in Texas. He said documents that show proof of vaccination should not be needed in order to travel, specifically internationally.
“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives,” he said in a video posted online. “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms.”
St. Edward’s University in Austin stated it would require students and staff members to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to return to campus in the fall. However, the university changed course following the governor’s order, which barred government agencies or organizations that receive public funds are banned from requiring proof of vaccination for entry or services.
St. Edward’s issued a new exemption for students and staff, indicating they can simply decline to provide proof of vaccination to the institution if they wish. Previously, exemptions related to religious beliefs, underlying medical conditions, and concerns about the Emergency Use Authorization were allowed. While St. Edward’s is a private institution, it does receive state funding for financial aid.
Dr. Bernton said he’ll donate part of the profits from ImmunaBand sales to charities providing COVID-19 relief. The first donation, he said, will happen next week to the nonprofits Americares and Direct Relief.